Special Report

How COVID Fatality Rates Compare With Other Deadly Diseases

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Smallpox (different strains of variola virus)
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 1%-95%

Smallpox is a contagious and often deadly disease that has been around for at least 3,000 years. With no cure or treatment for smallpox, a global immunization initiative began in 1967, and in 1980, the WHO declared smallpox eradicated. Smallpox is caused by the variola virus and can produce red spots that turn into lesions that in turn become blisters.

Depending on the type, case fatality rates can differ, but on average three out of every 10 people who got it died, according to the CDC. Today, stocks of the variola virus officially exist only in two labs worldwide, one the U.S. and one in Russia.

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Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 3.4%

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that can cause illnesses ranging from the common cold to severe disease. A new coronavirus was identified in 2019, following an outbreak in China.

In March 2020, the WHO declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic. As of Jan. 22, 5.58 million deaths worldwide have been attributed to the coronavirus, with more than 864,000 in the United States.

While with vaccines the case fatality rate has declined significantly, the WHO estimated the CFR at 3.4% in the early days of the pandemic. CFR also differs greatly between age groups with people older than 60 most at risk.

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Legionnaires’ disease
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 10%

The bacterium legionella causes Legionnaires’ disease, which is a version of pneumonia. Most people contract the disease by inhaling the bacteria from water or soil. Those most vulnerable are older adults, smokers, and those with weakened immune systems. Legionnaires’ disease is treated with antibiotics, and though most cases can be treated successfully, about one in 10 will die due to complications from their illness.

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Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 11%

Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) is a contagious viral respiratory illness caused by a coronavirus called SARS-associated coronavirus (SARS-CoV). SARS first appeared in China in November 2002, and was reported in February 2003. Within a few months, SARS spread worldwide, but no cases have been reported since 2004.

A total of 8,098 people worldwide became sick with SARS during the 2003 outbreak (Nov. 1, 2002, July 31, 2003), 774 of whom died. The WHO estimates a 3% fatality rate.

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West Nile virus
> Case fatality rate (untreated/unvaccinated): 4%-14%

The leading cause of mosquito-borne disease in the continental United States is West Nile virus. It is usually spread by those bitten by an infected mosquito. About one in five people develop a fever or have symptoms like headache or fatigue. There are currently no vaccines to prevent West Nile or medications to treat it.There are currently no vaccines to prevent West Nile or medications to treat it. Though the CDC estimates that about one out of 150 infected people will develop a serious, sometimes fatal, illness, fatality rates can be higher in different regions and depending on the age.

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